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What is a Line Manager?

Becoming a line manager can be an incredibly rewarding career move, and is a great way to progress further in a company you already enjoy working for. According to Glassdoor, the national average salary for a Line Manager is £33,122 in the United Kingdom, although this is likely to vary wildly depending on the size and type of organisation you are working for, as well as where you are based.

If you’ve never considered becoming a line manager before then you’re likely to have a lot of questions:  What does a line manager do? How do you become a line manager? And is a career as a line manager the right path for me? Here’s everything you need to know to answer these questions, and so much more:

What is a line manager?

You’ve probably heard the term line manager before, but it’s less likely you’ll know what a line manager actually does. This is because line manager is a generic term for the member of staff who ranks just above employees in the hierarchy of the business. As a result, this means the role of the line manager will vary dramatically depending on the business type. What is universally true, regardless of your industry, is that the line manager will directly manage at least one member of staff, and often they will directly manage a small team. The line manager will oversee the day-to-day tasks of this team, provide guidance and support where needed, and act as a point of contract between the employees they manage and the management team, or other high business authorities. If your business doesn’t have a line manager then they might be operating under a different title: Direct manager, supervisor, and team leader are all popular names for the same role.

Because line managers undertake such a wide number of tasks, they are often viewed less than positively by the employees who work under them. In fact, a recent survey found that 53% of people rate the overall performance of their organisation’s line managers as “less than good.” This is probably a combination of the line managers in question being given too many responsibilities to complete them all satisfactorily and those line managers not receiving the right training to undertake their job well.

Despite this, the role of the line manager is of vital importance, and businesses should ensure that their line managers are well trained and well prepared. If an employee has an issue or concern, their line manager should always be their first port of call. If the issue needs to be escalated further then it is the role of the line manager to report to a higher member of staff and ensure that the needs of the employee are presented. Many businesses simply won’t run smoothly without the support of those individuals operating as line managers.

Line manager motivating team in staff meeting

How line managers work

We’ve answered ‘what does a line manager do’ so now it’s time to look at how the best line managers work effectively. As mentioned above, because line manager is a generic title, it would be impossible to write a list of what a line manager should do, or how a line manager should work. You’ll find line managers in business types such as retail, the food industry, media and financial service companies, restaurants and software firms.

What is consistent is that, regardless of industry, line managers work as the main interface between the management team and the front-line workers of the organisation. Line managers function as a go-between: a member of management staff who is on the shop floor with the other front-line workers, but in a more executive capacity.

To work as a good line manager, you should be actively involved with your team members, listening to their needs. In doing so you can be in a position to provide support and encouragement when it is needed. You will then also be in the best position to provide feedback on the way your team members are working: this could be praise when things are going well or perhaps constructive criticism when things are not going well. A good line manager is the key to whether a team is happy and satisfied in their position or not. Employee satisfaction, engagement, and productivity is often all directly influenced by the strength of the line manager leading them.

Line managers will rarely be involved in developing the high-level strategy of a company: this is undertaken at a higher management or leadership level. Instead, they will simply implement the changes that they are given by their own managers; as a result, where changes have a negative impact on employee morale, it is often the line manager who takes the brunt of these frustrations.

When looking at how line managers work, you should consider them essential go-betweens. They are the vital link between the management team and the employees, perfectly positioned to identify problems with how high-level strategies are implemented. When an employee is working well, the line manager will identify this and develop their talent: often it is the line manager who identifies the next generation of line managers from within the ranks of their team. Without a good line manager, organisational learning and understanding would drop, having an overall negative effect on the way that a business progresses.

Line manager responsibilities

Regardless of industry, the main responsibilities of a line manager will include:

  • Managing a small team of employees, and overseeing their day-to-day tasks
  • Motivating your team and helping them to hit their targets. Working on strategies to increase productivity if these targets are consistently not being met
  • Planning and carrying out staff training both for new and current employees
  • Promoting employee development both through in-house training and other available learning or educational opportunities
  • Coaching and mentoring your team. Developing positive relationships with your team members in order to provide good group satisfaction and increase employee morale
  • Liaising with senior management. Providing regular reports and feedback. Helping to implement any strategic company-wide changes at the front-line level
  • Hold annual performance reviews with each member of your team
  • Lead regular team meetings
  • Approve holidays, organise staff schedules and rotas, deal with staff absences and sickness etc
  • Conduct job interviews and hire new team members where necessary

In short, line managers are responsible for the administrative management of all the employees in your team. Line managers wear many hats, as they are responsible for both motivating their team members as well as managing them. When corrective actions are needed, it is the responsibility of the line manager to take these.

Line manager in team meeting

What skills does a line manager need?

Whilst being a line manager can be an incredibly rewarding role, with more responsibilities and financial reward than those employees you are responsible for, it can also be a difficult role at times. If you are thinking of applying for a line manager position or have recently been promoted to line manager then you need to know that it is a multifaceted role that will require you to wear several hats, and demonstrate several different skills, at the same time. These include:

  • Excellent communication skills. You should be able to communicate clearly and efficiently with both your employees and your own management team. Your employees should understand what you expect of them, but they should also feel listened to and understood. A good line manager knows that communication is a two-way street, and that it is vitally important to staff morale
  • Long term planning. A good line manager should be able to look ahead and think about how they are achieving the company’s long-term goals, as well as fulfilling their responsibilities for the day. Good planning will help you manage your team’s workload, as well as your own, ensuring that both short term and long-term targets are met
  • The ability to delegate. Your role as a line manager involves ensuring that the work is completed, which means you need to be able to assign this work fairly and evenly to your team. Delegation is a vital role for a line manager. The workload that you give to your team should be realistic and achievable, and as a line manager you should clearly demonstrate to your team that you are completing your fair share of the workload too
  • You should be supportive and approachable in order to be a successful manager of people. When you are giving constructive criticism to your employees, they need to know that it is coming from a person who has their best interests at heart and who wants them to succeed. Always be available to provide support, and being generous with feedback that is both positive and negative is a key part of being a good line manager
  • You should have an analytical mind that will make analysing performance data straightforward for you. You need to be able to read spreadsheets quickly, and have the ability to concisely summarise the information that they contain. This will better enable you to report this information both to your employees and to your own management team
  • The best line managers have usually worked in the business, or in a similar business, at an entry-level employee level. This gives you the basic knowledge of how the business works, how the employees are feeling and where any pressure points might be. The knowledge that comes from experience will help you to deal with any issues that arise quickly and efficiently
  • Good organisation skills. The work of a line manager can quickly become overwhelming if you don’t stay organised. From creating staff schedules to delegating tasks and managing both your own time, and the time of your employees, if you don’t keep a level head and have good organisation skills then it would be very easy for your department to descend into chaos. By remaining calm and organised, you are showing your employees that you are in control and that they are in safe hands
  • Finally, trust is vital. You need to trust your employees; they were hired for a reason, and they know what they’re doing. Micromanaging your team, and constantly looking over their shoulder will not only damage morale it could also reduce productivity. You should trust your employees, and spend your own time more productively

Tips on being a good line manager

Anyone can be a line manager, but being a good line manager takes a very special set of skills. The fact is, being a line manager can be a very difficult job and one that requires you to juggle the needs of several people at the same time in order to reach your goals. However, that only makes the role more rewarding; you get to work with every member of your team, provide them support and help them with their career development, take part in management decisions and implement management changes, and regularly reach new targets and goals. Now we’ve answered ‘what does a line manager do’ here are some top tips on how to do it well:

  • Listen to your team. Get to know them and what makes them unique: by understanding the personalities of your team members you will better understand how to get the best from them
  • Be honest with your team members. Is it going to be a tough week? Are you short staffed? Let them know. Your team members look to you to guide them in their day-to-day tasks, and the more information you give them the more prepared they can be. The mantra that ‘honesty is the best policy’ is also true when it comes to providing feedback to your team about their progress and achievements
  • Be free with your feedback. If someone is doing well, let them know. Knowing that you have noticed that they are working hard provides great motivation, and will encourage your team members to keep meeting those high standards. When you have less positive feedback, be calm, friendly, and constructive
  • Be accountable. With great power comes great responsibility and as the line manager, you are the person responsible for the work of your team. That means you should be prepared to take responsibility for their failures, as well as their successes, and show that you will take responsibility for improving the performance of your team too
  • Develop yourself. There is a wide range of management training courses that you can take that will help you to become a better line manager, whilst also showing your commitment to improving yourself and progressing further within the management arena
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